Posts Tagged ‘art’

Stirred by Alexander Pope

November 26, 2016


‘Tis hard to say, if greater Want of Skill
Appear in Writing or in Judging ill,
But, of the two, less dang’rous is th’ Offence,
To tire our Patience, than mis-lead our Sense:
Some few in that, but Numbers err in this,
Ten Censure wrong for one who Writes amiss;
A Fool might once himself alone expose,
Now One in Verse makes many more in Prose.

Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism”

I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to “I hate to read new books,” and I hollered “Comrade!” to whoever owned it before me.

Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road

One of my deepest delights on this Thanksgiving vacation odyssey was perusing an antiquarian book store and finding these three volumes of Pope’s poetical works dating from 1853 and available for a price I could afford.  With trembling hands, I opened the very fragile volume II last evening and read his Essay on Criticism. The opening lines I believed were worth repeating. 

Awakening this morning, the words from Helene Hanff rose to the surface of my consciousness, and I felt the urge to rise early, post this brief blog, then get to work on some art.  Many times, essayists will stir me artistically because what they record of the act of writing I find apropros to the act of making visual art.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


So, why do you think that is ever going to change?

February 21, 2016


Today has been a day for cleaning up many unfinished art projects and sorting out new ideas for the studio. I have begun a new watercolor of an old subject I did years ago (twice) and am excited about its prospects. I am unable to post it because it is so pale with preliminary washes that no reader would be able to discern the subject yet. Soon, I hope!

My dear poet friend Stacy published on her blog this morning and knocked the wind out of me. I am posting the link below.

Later in the day, over coffee, we discussed this thing about being “blocked.” I know all-too-well the moments when I’m wondering just what to tackle next in my painting, accompanied by the self-doubt that is convinced that my efforts will fall short of my aspirations.  And as I read Stacy’s post repeatedly, one idea rose to the surface–a guitar master once listened as his student complained that he heard the music better than he was able to make it come out of his fingers. The master asked, “And why do you think that is ever going to change?”

That is exactly the point. My thoughts are always better than my expressions, whether they be public discourse, playing guitar, singing, writing, making art, even journaling. My expression never reaches the quality of my idea. My works of art never reach the level of Art. I suppose the sooner we accept that reality, the easier it will be to pick up the pen or brush or musical instrument.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Saturday Ruminations

February 20, 2016


He continues to inspire people to make art out of the substance of their daily lives, rather than to seek out special ‘artistic’ subjects. He continues to inspire ordinary people to break out of the narrow confinements of lives they have beeen handed down.

Steve Turner, Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster

It seems unfair to awaken at 5:30 on a Saturday morning, but at least I used the time to finish reading the Jack Kerouac biography I just cited above, spend some time scribbling in my journal, then making a stab at sketching one of my favorite spots for flyfishing–the Brazos River below Possum Kingdom dam, where they release rainbow trout every winter. I took a photograph of my favorite Highway 16 bridge the last time I went there, and since I got totally skunked, catching zero trout, I thought I may as well attempt some sketches of that gorgeous environment.

Sketching brightens my disposition, and I needed that this morning. Reading details of the closing decade of Kerouac’s life always saddens me. He didn’t manage to publish On the Road until 1957 and then eleven years later he was dead. That final decade was tragic beyond words, as recognition for his literary work finally came while his spirits tanked. He lacked the disposition to savor being a public figure, and writing no longer brought him bliss.

I like the observation that Turner drew near the close of the biography, and I love the challenge of creativity just as much as I love people who respond to that challenge. Recently, I have felt pain as I have read one account after another of a famous creative spirit who could not continue to thrive creatively when the fame set in. Often it was because they were stripped of their environment of solitude that was necessary for creative exploits. Added to that was the pressure to sustain a particular style or signature that fed the public but no longer intrested the creator. That often proved a no-win situation. If they continued in the style, they were unhappy, feeling that they were doing hack work to satisfy the market. If they did indeed pursue new stylistic avenues, the public rejected it, wanting the familiar trademark stuff.

I have always savored the remark made by Robert Motherwell in an interview concerning the life choices of the Abstract Expressionist artists before their work was discovered: “If no one gave a damn about what we did, why not do whatever we wanted?” That is the kind of felicitious artful lifestyle that appeals to me–being able to do what pleases oneself without having to worry about the market. I have not expressed enough gratitude for my having a steady job throughout my adult life that supports what I do in the creative realm. I can succeed or I can fail at my art, but at least I can continue to earn a living and not have to ask anyone to support what I do.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Pushing Aside the Traffic to Linger Over a Drawing

December 10, 2015


The mind has shown itself at times

Too much the baked and labeled dough

Divided by accepted multitudes.

Across the stacked partitions of the day–

Across the memoranda, baseball scores,

The stenographic smiles and stock quotations

Smutty wings flash out equivocations.

The mind is brushed by sparrow wings;

Numbers, rebuffed by asphalt, crowd

The margins of the day, accent the curbs,

Convoying divers dawns on every corner

To druggist, barber and tobacconist,

Until the graduate opacities of evening 

Take them away as suddenly to somewhere

Virginal perhaps, less fragmentary, cool.

Hart Crane

Being profoundly enriched recently by the writings of Harold Bloom, I am now reading Hart Crane poetry for the first time that I recall in my life.  And I find this writer connecting with me in ways I haven’t known since the days of reading Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams.  The portion of the poem above really gave me pause, highlighting the kind of days I seem to live as this holiday season draws near.  I love Thanksgiving and Christmas, and feel deeply the warm sentiments that permeate the atmosphere about me.  Yet at the same time, deadlines seem to double, meetings triple, and responsibilities quadruple.  The pace, the interruptions to any kind of flow, the rising noise about me–I find myself seeking ways to repel all of this rather than explode in frustration and petty verbal outbursts.

In the afternoons, I’m now sitting in my classroom/gallery, surrounded by my art, listening to soothing music, reading poetry and bending over the daily drawing.  The one attached above is what I did yesterday before the 4:00 hour arrived.  There were plenty of appointments waiting for me after 4:00, but the pause for reading, for music, and for art made all the difference.

And today offers the chance of being another good day.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Life is Short, Art Long

January 6, 2015
Some Stolen Moments in the Studio this Evening

Some Stolen Moments in the Studio this Evening

Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgment difficult.


The first day of school begins tomorrow. I have spent the large part of the past two days getting my online college course ready to launch, though college starts a week later.  I have Advanced Placement Art History tomorrow, so a large part of today was spent refreshing my memory on the material we’ll cover in tomorrow’s sessions.  Following that, I had some household chores to tend.  Finally, this evening for about an hour, I was able to settle into the garage studio and return to work on this still life I abandoned a few days ago.  I felt no need to rush things, and worked on transparent glazes on the three apples, tweaked the screen backdrop a bit, and then did some serious texturing work on the white door frame visible beneath the screen.  I also took time to lay in some shadows beneath the apples and to work further on the pail handle.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I worked all over this cotton-pickin’ composition!  It was a good moment of quiet in the studio, and I regret that the door is closing on moments like this.  My high school and college courses will come on with a vengeance, and I have a few art festivals pending this spring.  But one way or another, I will fight my way back into the studio and find the time necessary to keep my brush dipped in the arts.

Thanks for reading.  The day has been long and spastic, but at least I got a little work done in art.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am never really alone.

Pondering New Directions in Watercolor

January 2, 2015
A Dark, Rainy Friday Made for Books and Reflective Thought

A Dark, Rainy Friday Made for Books and Reflective Thought

There are men charged with the duty of examining the construction of the plants, animals and soils which are the instruments of the great orchestra.  These men are called professors.  Each selects one instrument and spends his life taking it apart and describing its strings and sounding boards.  This process of dismemberment is called research.  The place for dismemberment is called a university.

A professor may pluck the strings of his own instrument, but never that of another, and if he listens for music he must never admit it to his fellows or to his students.  For all are restrainted by an ironbound taboo which decrees that the construction of instruments is the domain of science, while the detection of harmony is the domain of poets.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

How delightful to be finished with my holiday travels, home again, and still possess time for quiet reflection before returning to school next week.  Today (Friday) is dark and rainy and well-suited for staying indoors.  The coffee pot is full, the books are stacked high, Mozart is playing on the stereo, and I’m grazing from a number of ideological pastures as I figure out what to do next with my time.  Today I have watched again the film “A Beautiful Mind,” and have felt so inspired at the thought of John Nash wrestling with the implications of a new idea.  The film has spurred me to dig deeper into journals and art books in a quest for some kind of direction in my artistic pursuits.  While re-reading one of my favorite books, Wyeth at Kuerners, I suddenly saw in my mind’s eye the subject that I want to try next.  I’m waiting for it to get dark outside so I can work in my garage studio, relying on spotlighting effects rather than the natural light flooding through the windows of the door.

The Aldo Leopold quote posted above I culled from a journal I kept during the final quarter of 2013.  I enjoy perusing old journals, especially at this age when I seem to forget about 90% of what I’ve written in prior years that I thought so important then.  I was delighted to find Leopold tagging on to the same idea I published yesterday,separating Art from works of art.  For most of my life, I have attempted to make art, and always realized that my creations pointed toward Art but never seemed to cross the threshold.  And when it comes to assessing the strength of various works of art, I always seem to find myself tongue-tied.  Currently I’m working on this idea of how we as artists break works of art into their component elements of design, analyze techniques applied, and ultimately conclude that the composition is always more, much more than its parts.

Many of my ideas about art parallel my views on education.  Since I’ll be returning to school next week, my mind is full of these ideas as well, especially my view that education, like art, cannot be distilled into a few basic principles.  Education is an art, not a toolbox of techniques.  The assessment of a quality education (to me) cannot be divined from a sheet of statistics, cannot be discovered by analyzing data, and cannot be disseminated by training a group of teachers to follow a lesson plan template.  As an educator, I have no gimmicks, no magic tricks.  I study hard. collect myriads of words and ideas, assemble and arrange them and then communicate them to listeners.  Sometimes what I pass on is “caught” much as one would catch the measles.  As to the art arena, my watercolors are the same thing–an assemblage of objects, techniques, moods and ideas that sometimes work.  And in ways that I still do not understand, certain paintings of mine will reach viewers, will draw them in.  I’m eternally grateful for those encounters, though I have no idea how these things happen.

Looking Over my Recent History of Work, Trying to Determime What to Try Next

Looking Over my Recent History of Work, Trying to Determime What to Try Next

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am never alone.

An Artful Life

September 20, 2014

It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue,  and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look,  which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts.
Henry David Thoreau,  Walden

Negative sentiments have no space in my day-to-day life since my last blog post. I only regret to write that this past week was packed to the point that I never stopped to post blogs, though my daily journal continually piled up pages of written expostulations-all of them running over with gratitude.

For manifold years, the daily task of teaching (for me) was a solitary enterprise, and the occasional student crossed my path outside the classroom,  and intellectual/spiritual bonding occurred. When the school term ended, over 90% of those relationships severed, and I just accepted that – life goes on.

Last year witnessed a change – a core of creative, passionate students found me and would not let go of me. Not only did they comprise several of my classes, they dropped in at lunch, after school, and showed up at every art festival where I was a participant.

I fully expected this year to revert to the way things were before these beautiful minds found me last year. Gratefully, it did not happen. I am overwhelmed now with the spirit of good will emanating from more individuals than ever before in any given school year. There are no words to describe this new sentiment. This experience is leading this old man to examine new ways of defining “Art” as people around me are showing me symptoms of a more “artful life”. So, with all my love, I send out my deepest thanks to last year’s “core” of enthusiastic learners who have changed my life profoundly.

Staying Up Much Too Late

April 8, 2013
Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

We have gotten off the good ship America and will hunt for whales no more.  Perhaps we have failed to regain our confidence, our will to succeed, in this our nation.  We accept, albeit mournfully, that we will never be in the party, meet the honorable undersecretary of state for lunch, invent some hot new cutting-edge technology, or see our names spelled out in red plastic letters across a movie marquee.  We will not receive due mention in the sober black on white of The New York Times, discover our picture in Rolling Stone magazine, or Forbes, or People–not even in the background, at, say, a celebrity-studded charity event.  We will never, in short, amount to much of anything.  And more: Perhaps we have, through successive failures of our own or through witnessing those of others, become honest skeptics, not merely of our own potential for success but of our culture’s values in general.  We do not believe that anything is possible, that good fortune is just around the corner for anyone but the few and very lucky, that anyone perpetually reawakens to a perpetually new dawn.

Gordon Theisen, Staying Up Much Too Late: Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and the Dark Side of the American Psyche.

I am sitting up in bed, reading, waiting to become drowsy.  My school work for tomorrow has been completed in a timely manner, and I’ve decided not to go into the studio tonight to begin something that will keep me up at a dreadful hour.  I hate to come up short on sleep when the school week is barely under way.  I’ll live to paint another day.

I was deeply stirred at what I’ve posted above.  I am nearly finished with this book by Gordon Theisen, and it is penetrating, to say the very least–a sobering look at the American psyche, particularly through the eyes of those who wish to create art in some fashion.  I believe I can say, at age 58, that I am sober-minded when assessing my personal role in the arts.  I did not set out to make it a career, choosing instead to work jobs that paid me consistently and provided benefits.  I don’t regret that decision.  When I started my sole proprietorship in 2004, I of course had dreams of it blossoming into much more than it has at this stage.  But in the midst of all those trials and errors, successes and disappointments, I believe I still have found what this enterprise is all about, to me.  I have warm memories of those times when I was publicized and sought after, and certainly don’t want to diminish the value of those experiences.  But the reason I know that I am an artist, is because I still make art by compulsion.  I cannot be happy, not making art.  I make art when there is no audience, when there is no market, when there is no one to whom I can show it.  I make art, even when it’s going to be matted, sleeved and placed in a steamer trunk for safe keeping.  I make art because I cannot see myself doing anything else with this degree of inner satisfaction.

An English professor whom I profoundly admire told me back in the late 1980’s that when students told him they wanted to be writers, he asked: “Why?”  He wanted to know if they wanted to write, or if they wanted to become famous, wealthy, successful.  His conviction was that if they sought to become writers because they wanted to write, that they would probably turn out to be great writers.  I still remember his dictum: “History owes us nothing.  If we are famous, wealthy, successful, then so be it.  But it isn’t owed.  It’s a gift.”

Those words abide with me.

I hope the tenor of this post is what I have intended to get across.  I feel badly for anyone suffering disappointment, having never achieved the Dream.  As for myself, I’m grateful still to be alive, well, and granted the ability to create.  An artist creates a lot of good work, and a lot of bad work.  An artist just creates, period.  And I am grateful that I have been granted the freedom to create.

Thanks for reading.

I paint to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

A Close Second to a Parisian Sidewalk Cafe

February 24, 2011

Sidewalk Cafe Life at Eureka Springs

Texas temperatures are getting better–80 degrees and sunny today.  My garage has turned into an art studio/man cave for me, with a portable TV/VCR playing an assortment of tapes for my listening pleasure while I paint–lectures on Friedrich Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams to name just a few.  I feel myself entering this composition that I’ve tinkered with for several months now.  I can almost hear the voices around the table discussing poetry, philosophy, theology, books–all the artistic elements that keep us alive and alert.

This setting is in downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where it was my profound privilege to teach a week of plein air watercolor classes for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.  It was my first time, and I have an application pending there now, hoping with all I have that there will be a class again this year.  My two favorite towns so far are Waxahachie, Texas and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for on-site watercoloring.  Both towns boast streets lined with Victorian architecture, flower beds, cute shops around the downtown district, and compositions for painting in any direction one looks.

This particular painting is huge by my standards–30 x 22″–and it involves elements that are outside my comfort zone–people and a myriad of details.  I have avoided genre painting for a number of years, realizing that there are countless artists “out there” who do it so exceedingly well.  But I recently read something from the Journals of Henry David Thoreau that convinced me to go for this: “There is always room and occasion enough for a true book on any subject, as there is room for more light on the brightest day, and more rays will not interfere with the first.”  All I had to do was substitute “painting” for “book,” and I got his point.  My contribution to this genre of painting will in no way diminish what has been done by others, and yes, there is room in this world of art for me to contribute as well.  So . . . with that in mind, I was liberated to go after this composition.

Today was quite a full day–high school classes by day, a trip to the veterinarian this afternoon, and a college class tonight.  But there is still time to engage in the arts, and I so love returning to my studio, even when the day has been filled with “work.”  Thoreau said (I believe in Walden) “To effect the quality of the day is the highest of the arts.”  That I must remember.  Though packed to the rim, today has nevertheless been “artful.”

Thanks for reading.  Talk to you again tomorrow . . .